Nov 212012
 
This is a selfmade image from the english wiki...

This is a selfmade image from the english wikipedia. The photographer has uploaded it as GFDL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work,” do you subscribe to this ethic? I certainly do. I cannot envision another ethic more appropriate for the relationship between labor and capital. Originally coined as the motto for the English working-class movement of the 1820s, it was also adopted by the American Federation of Labor and still stands as their official motto today.

While unionism has become increasingly maligned in contemporary America, the resonance of this simple ethic of fair pay still rings true. Of course, the application of any such moral principle is subject to definition, and the devil is in the detail. One person’s notion of “fair” may be very different from another’s, but like so many things, while we may not be able to easily define such “fairness,” most people do know it when they see it.

Wages are, after all, driven by market conditions, and as such vary from job to job. One would not expect a janitor to be paid the same as a skilled computer programmer, or an electrician the same as somebody serving up Big Macs. But at the same time, it doesn’t take a great deal of analysis to recognize the patent unfairness that led to the American labor movement — the situation where women working in the garment industry of the 1830s toiled for 16 hours a day to earn $2.00 a week — nor does it require a degree in economics to appreciate the inequity of the richest 1% taking 93% of all gains in our present economic recovery.

Perhaps not a perfect tool, but the Know-It-When-You-See-It lens can still prove valuable when used to gauge many of the situations present in America today. For instance, I’m sure that most CEOs would argue that they provide services to their companies far in excess of their average worker, but does the KIWYSI lens concur when gauging their meteoric rise in relative compensation, from 24-to-1 in 1965 to an unbelievable 431-to-1 in 2004? How can this possibly be fair in the sense of a “fair day’s pay,” especially when set against a backdrop of stagnant pay for workers and a nationwide median household  income that actually dropped recently for the first time since 1967?

It’s not fair. In fact, it’s both grossly unfair and extremely destructive toward the larger economy. Modern American society depends on a vibrant and well-compensated middle class to provide the demand needed to fuel its economic engines, and when a disproportionate share of total compensation is siphoned off instead to feed the over-accumulation of an elite few — everyone else suffers.

Nowhere is this disparity more apparent today than when looking at America’s working poor, and one need look no further than our nation’s largest employer to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, employs more than 1.2 million people in the United States, their average employee being paid a whopping $8.81 per hour. Such meager pay, especially when accompanied by equally poor benefits, does allow Wal-Mart to maintain low prices while enjoying extremely high profits — currently roaring in at around $13 billion (with a “B”) annually — but since hundreds of thousands of their workers are compensated below the poverty line, they require government assistance, such as food stamps, just to make ends meet.

Defenders of compensation schemes such as those used by Wal-Mart seem to focus on the benefit ostensibly delivered to the consumer in the form of low prices, while at the same time ignoring entirely the impact of the government subsidizing their profits. This is a form of “wealthfare,” one where consumers receive discounts on the surface but pay far more in the long run in the form of increased taxes and an economy stifled by low demand stemming from ever-increasing concentration of wealth.

It’s not like Wal-Mart is in need of such subsidies. They’re not struggling to make a profit. The Walton family has done quite well with their little retail chain. Still holding 48% of company stock, the family is worth a combined total of $103 billion — 6 people with more money than the poorest 30% of the American public. Yet the company can’t afford to pay its employees a living wage? A quick look through that KIWYSI lens  reveals but one conclusion — fairness is a virtue not well practiced in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Fortunately, even in the face of fierce company opposition, many Wal-Mart workers have decided to let their voices be heard. Through strikes that began last month, workers fed up with being reprimanded for speaking out against low pay, adverse work conditions and unaffordable healthcare are taking a stand. That stand will culminate with pickets at more than 1,000 Wal-Mart stores across the nation on Black Friday.

Those of us who embrace the notion of a “fair day’s pay” need to stand in solidarity with our fellow American workers and amplify their voices with our support. I don’t work at Wal-Mart, neither do I know anyone who does, but I have added by name in support of their efforts, and I will stand with them this Friday.

Sadly, this really isn’t about Wal-Mart; it’s about an economic system that has increasingly benefitted the wealthy at the expense of working and middle class Americans. For more than 30 years, the rich have gotten much, much richer, to the point where the richest 1% now hold more financial wealth than the poorest 95% of our population, and the United States ranks among nations with the most unequal wealth distribution in the world — worse than Iran or China.

Solidarity is the only effective response to oppression, and as pastor Martin Niemoller so eloquently communicated in his statement “First They Came,” it only takes root when those of us with no personal stake stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who do. Some will be motivated purely by their sense of fairness, but all should find reason in the knowledge that they might be next, for nobody who works for a living is safe from the ravages of a system that sacrifices labor at the altar of capital.

If you do nothing else, please, please stay away from Wal-Mart this Black Friday. Don’t do anything and help the working poor of America. What better thing to not do in the spirit of the holidays? It just might be the most important thing you don’t do all year.


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Jun 252012
 

Bizarro Obama

Electoral politics is a game of contrasting values and ideas. It requires that a candidate present a compelling argument explaining why they’re the best person for the job. But what’s a person to do if they’re up against a superior opponent, one who bests them in nearly every category? The answer is simple and obvious, provided you can get away with it — just run against somebody else.

That is exactly the tack that Mitt Romney has taken against President Obama. Mr. Romney, who has the personality of a pet rock and has been “severely” on both sides of every issue, finds himself facing a smart, articulate, and charismatic leader with a pretty damn good record, especially when given due credit for circumstance. Couple the obvious nature of a values versus return-on-value / man versus robot matchup, with the impact of Romney’s well-deserved mantle as Champion of the One-percent, and you’ve got a situation that screams for creative remedy.

So, instead of running against President Obama, the Romney campaign is running from him. According to Romney, the person he’s up against is an anti-business, anti-growth, anti-investment, anti-jobs socialist who’s bent on penalizing success, apologizing for the US, and raising taxes on working Americans. Romney’s opponent doesn’t care about the deficit or debt, is weak on using military force and responsible for higher gas prices. He’s made the economy worse, “stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history,” and believes thatAmerica’s greatness is a thing of the past.

Who is this person Mitt Romney’s campaigning against? It’s obviously not President Obama. No, the opponent who Romney has chosen to mount an attack against is a fictitious character; he’s a Bizarro World version of  President Obama — he’s BizarrObama.

As it was in Dell comic’s Bizarro World of Htrae (Earth spelled backward), Romney’s fictitious opponent is categorically the opposite of the actual President Obama in every way. Where the President has promoted investment, and actually signed 18 tax cuts for small business, BizarrObama is anti-investment and anti-business. Where President Obama has approved fewer new regulations than President Bush and proposed a sweeping jobs plan, the American Jobs Act, his Bizarro World counterpart “hasn’t put forth a plan to get us working again” and is anti-growth and anti-jobs.

Willard M. Romney has repeatedly stated that President Obama has “made [the economy] worse.” But again, he must be referring to BizarrObama, because things have improved considerably under the real President. The economy was in freefall when President Obama took office; we were hemorrhaging over 700,000 jobs per month in January 2009, but his efforts quickly slowed the bleeding and led to the past 27 months of private sector job growth. On the investment side, somehow the Dow that fell to just 6,626 before the President finished moving into the White House has climbed to 12,649 today. And in the wake of the largest economic disaster since the Great Depression, by late 2010, corporations were recording record profits and sitting on $2 trillion in cash. But Romney says this is “worse?” Could it be that the Mittster is referring to the Bizarro-economy — where worse actually means better and better is worse?

Possibly the most glaring evidence of Romney’s fixation with the fictitious world of Htrae are his statements about the President and the federal debt. According to Willard, the debt “will keep growing under this president” and will be “passed on to young people.” He’s likened Obama’s economic policy to a prairie fire, a “debt and spending inferno.” Yet since the 2009 budget, which was developed and signed by George W. Bush, federal spending has increased very little. It actually went down by 1.7% in 2010, up about 4% in 2011, and is expected to rise less than 1% this year. And that spending includes the much maligned Stimulus, which is credited by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for adding as much as 4.5% to the GDP and increasing employment by 3.3 million jobs.

All told, while the numbers are historically large, the debt has actually grown at a much slower rate under President Obama than under either George W. Bush or Republican hero, Ronald Reagan. The true “debt and spending inferno” actually occurred under Reagan, who was responsible for nearly tripling the debt, and the prairie fire that more than doubled it again blazed under GW’s tight fiscal control. If this GOP leadership is to define the standard, then the less than 50% increase under Obama is more a “simmer” than the type of out-of-control burn characterized by the Romnibot. Of course, in the world of Willard, where Bizarro bonds are “guaranteed to loose money for you,” I suppose this might all make sense.

But here on planet Earth, where the real President Obama has never “apologized for America,” has been exceedingly strong on national defense (often to the dismay of much of his base), and no president has control over gas prices, even when domestic drilling increases under their watch, as it has with Obama — slowing the increase in debt is a good thing. And it certainly does not square with Romney’s claim that “Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history.”

The truth be told, here, where the planet is blue, not the sun, we don’t hate beauty, better is better, and when a presidential administration cuts income taxes for 95% of working families and cuts payroll taxes for all working Americans — in contrast with Romney claims, they did “lower taxes for the middle class.” And when that same administration proposes a rule to end the free ride where the richest few pay tax rates far below that of the middle class, the vast majority are in support, and only Willard and those like him who save Mittloads of cash under the rigged system are against it.

Indeed, every time Mitt Romney opens his mouth, it’s virtually certain that some distorted contrary version of reality will escape his lips. It’s almost as if he believes the 99% to actually be the 1% and vice-versa. Fortunately, there may be a simple explanation for Romney’s confusion. Be it in his defense of Citizens United, his calm assertion that “corporations are people, my friend,” or his mockery of the President’s call to protect firemen, police and teachers, Mitt Romney always appears to think that the American people are with him. The question is — which American people . . . those here on Earth, or those on a cube-shaped planet orbiting a blue sun?

In case anyone might think this is all conjecture, perhaps a little something straight from the horse’s mouth will help: while at a campaign event in Virginiain May, Romney was asked what he would do about the economy. His response is quite revealing: “What I would do? People ask me, ‘What would you do to get the economy going?’ and I say, ‘Well look at what the president’s done and do the opposite.” Now, the core tenet of the Bizarro Code being “Us do opposite of all Earthly things,” is alarming enough, but when you consider that the opposite of what President Obama has done is another GOP directed financial crisis, and you understand that on Htrae it’s a “big crime to make anything perfect” . . . well, draw your own conclusions.

Perhaps this is all just a wild attempt to explain the strange behavior of Willard M. Romney. But most people would agree it’s a bit odd to “like being able to fire people,” more than a little rude to criticize cookies offered by a gracious host, downright bizarre to strap a dog to the roof of a car, and a multimillionaire quipping that he too is “unemployed” is funny as a rubber crutch. With Romney, the issues are much deeper than those of the average selfish Mitthead.

If not some weird connection with a fictitious world, what is it that explains the Willard? Why does his laugh seem so canned, his smile seem so plastic? How can anybody be so stiff, so robotic? What is it that makes you want to smack the Mitt out of Romney? So little of what the man says having any basis in reality, an impartial observer who’s unwilling to accept the Bizarro is forced into a more mundane conclusion — that Romney is just another out-of-touch, psychopathic rich guy who happens to also be a pathological liar.


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Sep 202011
 

If your doctor gave you a prescription to improve your health, and it made you deathly ill, would you follow said doctor’s orders to take ever-increasing dosages?

Of course you wouldn’t. You’d label the doctor either an incompetent quack or an unscrupulous shill for the pharmaceutical company; you’d stop taking medicine that was killing you, and you’d seek alternative treatment.

It’s all so obvious: you believe that something will be beneficial, so you give it a try, but once your experience proves that your faith was misplaced — you dummy up. You learn from your mistake and move forward a wiser person.

So, why is it that what seems so obvious in a healthcare scenario, and would also apply without exception if dealing with a mechanic, a lawyer, a contractor, or pretty much anyone else, somehow winds up being lost entirely in the world of politics?

More to the point: how is it possible, after experiencing the catastrophic results of conservative economic policy, that there’s a single American (who’s not either a Republican politician or some other member of the Top 1%) still willing to give the GOP Rx for the economy another nanosecond of consideration?

When King Solomon said that “there is nothing new under the sun,” he couldn’t possibly have done a better job at describing GOP economic policy. From the plans being offered by the illustrious ranks of Republican presidential candidates to those recently articulated by House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, their prescription is nothing but more of the same poison that crashed the American economy, blew unemployment up to historic levels, and fueled concentration of wealth not seen since the Great Depression.

The GOP Rx for the economy is ever-static and never works. Whether you’re talking decades ago or focused on today, it always consists of the same triple threat to the American people: cut taxes for the wealthy, deregulate, and privatize government along with the commons. They wrap their rhetoric up in a flag, label their plan as “job creating,” and somehow manage to sell the same warmed-over economic Vioxx time and again.

The truth of the matter is that we’ve already tried every element of the Republican plan, all to the detriment of the vast majority of Americans.

According to the GOP, we must lower taxes on the wealthy (a.k.a. the “job creators”) in order to address unemployment. Of course, tax rates today are at record lows with the total income tax burden at its lowest point since 1950 — a fact that begs the question, “Why don’t we already have the jobs?”

Well, the answer is that lowering taxes on the wealthy doesn’t create jobs. It never has and never will, yet whenever the opportunity arises, the GOP snake oil dealers come out of the woodwork offering the same poisonous tonic. Bush did it in 2001, promising 800,000 jobs from his Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, but the $1.6 trillion tax cut, that gave fully half of the savings to the Top 1%, didn’t actually create any jobs. In fact, following the cuts, we lost 2.7 million jobs by May of 2003.

In contrast, Bill Clinton had the unmitigated gall to raise taxes on the rich, which if GOP prognosticators were right should have been a death knell for job creation. But instead of the Republican predictions of an apocalypse, of a market collapse and dire straits for the economy, we entered into the most prosperous peacetime economy in American history. BLS records show that 22.7 million jobs were created under President Clinton and a paltry 1.08 million under George W. Bush. It seems pretty obvious which president had the better prescription for the American economy.

Once all of the hype is pushed aside, it’s plain to see that tax cuts for the rich have little to do with job creation and instead achieve only the one thing that the average person might expect — they make the rich even richer. They lead to the banana republic style distribution of wealth that now has the U.S. ranking 98th amongst 136 nations measured by the Gini index of income inequality — worse than Iran — worse than freaking China! But what can you expect when our top 1% now holds more financial wealth than the bottom 95% of the population?

So, maybe the GOP is wrong about tax cuts but right about deregulation. Maybe present calls to repeal Dodd-Frank to “free up Wall St.” are just the prescription for prosperity we need. Maybe there is validity in Michelle Bachmann’s claim that financial reform is “killing the banking industry.” And maybe Sarah Palin will actually run for president, there really is an Easter Bunny, and the GOP truly does give a fat flying flip about working Americans.

The deregulation story is actually scarier than the tax cut myth. It was deregulation that gave birth to the derivative market, allowed unfettered access to credit default swaps, tore down the barrier between investment and commercial banking, and created the Wall St. casino that bled the middle class for 30% of their combined wealth and sent unemployment to levels not seen since the last tax cutting, deregulating, military spending GOP buffoon, Ronald Reagan, sent the rate over 10%.

It was George W. Bush’s dismantling of the regulatory structure that gave us the housing bubble and subsequent economic collapse, allowed the Massey Mine disaster to kill 29 people, and laid the ground work of incompetence that led to the BP oil spill.

Republican style deregulation strips government of its power to carry out it moral mission to protect the people and replaces it with a charade of profit-focused companies pretending to police themselves. It assigns henhouse security to the fox by binding and gagging the farmer. It leads to companies monitoring safety requirements, as it did at Big Branch and in the Gulf, and leaves drug testing to the pharmaceutical companies, as was the case with Merck and their Vioxx pain reliever that caused tens of thousands of heart attacks and strokes, and killed nearly 3,500 Americans.

There are no doubt regulations that do place an unnecessary burden on businesses, and they should be addressed, but they are in the minority. Most regulations serve a vital purpose to protect the citizenry from those who would exploit people and planet in order to add to their bottom line.

Government regulation is as necessary as our system of criminal and civil law. It ensures the safety of our food, infrastructure, medicine, energy, transportation system, consumer products, water supply, and workplace — without regulation we cannot have a functional society. Regulatory reform may indeed be essential, but it must be accomplished intelligently and without compromise that sacrifices the moral mission in exchange for the profit motive. Such reform cannot be achieved through GOP “starve the beast” tactics, where funding for the FDA, SEC, FAA or FEMA and OSHA are indiscriminately cut, nor will it happen through attacks on unions, the NRLB or the EPA as proposed by Eric “Corporate Shill” Cantor and his ignorant mob of Tea Party ideologues.

The Republican plan for America is simple: starve government of necessary funding, cripple government by axing regulations, and turn whatever’s left of government over to private enterprise to milk for profits. They ignore the reality that our economy is stalled because of lack of demand stemming from concentration of wealth not seen since the Great Depression. They ignore science, clutching onto the desperate notion that 98% of climate scientists are wrong about global warming in order to justify their loyal support of fossil fuels. And they ignore the selfish drain on the economy presented by the Wall St. casino and fat-cat government contractors who provide services at rates averaging 183% of the costs to simply hire federal workers.

Sadly, none of this matters to the GOP. When facts get in their way, they just invent another marketing phrase, regurgitate more of their distorted talking points, and spin their poison in populist labels like “liberty” and “freedom.” But in spite of their flag waving and lip service for working Americans, the truth of the GOP is that their core mantra remains “government is the problem,” and they will stop at nothing to deliver on their self-fulfilling prophesy.

Make no mistake about it, the GOP Rx is effective. The problem is that the America it’s intended to serve is comprised of only the top 1 to 2% of Americans. The strength of our nation depends upon both a strong democracy and a healthy capitalist economy. Sadly, the Republican Party is willing to trample the rights of the People and decimate that democracy in order to feed the greed of the economic elite.

Americans need to wake up before it’s too late. They need to smell the burning apple pie, and realize that the parasitic capitalist machine is killing its host. Republicans may still talk about jobs and small business, but it should be obvious to the most casual observer that high unemployment and the lower wages it brings are nirvana for GOP strategists, and real small business is anathema for their vision of an American corporatocracy.

The GOP Rx for our economy deserves a grade of “D” for “Death” of the American Dream. And any working American who subscribes to their prescription and believes that the policies that are destroying the middle class will somehow magically start producing a different result deserves a great big “F” for “Fucking Insane!”


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